MONDAY, March 25, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- More U.S. veterans are at increased risk for heart disease, a looming public health problem, researchers say.
They analyzed data from more than 153,000 people who took part in the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Vets between the ages of 35 and 70 reported significantly more heart conditions than non-veterans, the data showed. After age 70, non-veterans reported more, but the study's author suspects that might be because fewer vets survived into old age due to heart disease.
"I think it's sort of the first indication of a coming public health crisis for veterans," said study author Ramon Hinojosa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida.
"Because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have a relatively large, new younger generation of veterans who are going to survive for 30 or 40 years after their war experience," he said in a university news release.
The study suggests that what's known as the "healthy soldier effect" is no longer guaranteed. That's the tendency for members of the military to be more fit and less overweight than same-age civilians.
Hinojosa said the change could be due the nature of modern warfare, changes in diet, leisure and exercise, more obesity among younger vets, and higher rates of drinking, smoking and mental illness.
"It's concerning to know that the physical benefits of military service seem to be not holding as well for the younger veterans," he said.
"This suggests the health protective benefits of military service are not what they used to be," Hinojosa said. "I think that should cause us to really look at what's going on among the veterans after they leave military service."
Being aware of this emerging problem can help health care providers offset the likelihood of early onset heart disease, Hinojosa noted.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
The American Heart Association has more on heart disease prevention.